By: Scott M. Tanner, Esq.
In simple terms, this guide takes its readers through the necessary steps to enforce a judgment, including form numbers, costs, and tricks of the trade.
This guide is intended to be general in nature and does not cover every form of judgment enforcement, simply the most common.
As a preliminary matter, the first and most important step to enforcing a judgment is verifying the existence of an asset. In order to enforce a judgment, there must be something to enforce the judgment against. (“Assets” in this context will generally refer to checking or savings accounts, wages, or real property.)
Unfortunately, it is often asset verification (“skip tracing” as it’s referred to in the collection industry) that can prove to be the most difficult step in judgment enforcement. Some people work very hard to maintain their privacy and, often, are very successful at doing so.
In my 10 years of experience, asset verification is the single area where an attorney and/or collection agency is the most helpful.
The Writ/The Abstract ($30-$40)
Assuming you’ve been successful in verifying the existence of an asset, the next step is to obtain a court document allowing you to execute your judgment.
A Writ of Execution allows its holder to take property or money from the judgment debtor. Writs are used to enforce judgments against bank accounts and wages.
An Abstract of Judgment allows its holder to place a lien on real property. It is generally only used for purposes of attaching to a piece of real property.
Obtaining either of the above documents is relatively easy; fill the relevant form out, forward it to the court with a copy of the judgment, two additional copies of the document, a check for $30 or so (I’m not sure what the current fee is, but it’s not much more than $30) and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Serving the Writ/Recording the Abstract ($20-$40)
Now that you’ve obtained the relevant execution document, it’s time to put that document to use. It is at this point in the process that judgment enforcement can become a little more complicated.
Wages: To garnish wages submit the original Writ, an Application for Earnings Withholding (form WG-001), a check for $30 for sheriff service of the document, and a copy of the judgment to the sheriff of the county in which the relevant employer is located.
Bank Levy: The steps are essentially identical to the steps for a wage garnishment, except instead of send an Application for EWO, send a letter entitled “Sheriff’s Instructions – Bank Levy.” In this letter, detail the location of the bank, account number, and account holder’s name.
Property Lien: Simply forward the Abstract of Judgment, a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and an additional copy of the Abstract to the County Recorder in the county where the property is located. The fee for recording the Abstract varies ($20-$40).
The Waiting Game
The most frustrating part of the judgment enforcement process is the wait. Due to budget cuts, many of the public entities you’ll be working with will be way behind on processing judgment enforcing documents.
As a general rule of thumb, I tell my clients to expect a wait of 3-6 months before they might expect their first payment from any of the above enforcement techniques.
What’s more, if relevant, a property lien will not be paid until the property is sold or the debtor seeks a mortgage on the relevant property. This could be years, and, in fact, may never happen.
Assuming you’ve sent copies of each of the relevant documents to the Sheriff/County Recorder, you will receive conformed copies of each document for your records. Save these copies as receipts.
Perhaps the subject of another legal guide, be aware that it is very possible the judgment debtor can challenge the enforcement technique you choose with a Claim of Exemption – making the process even more extended.
If you have a judgment and you need help enforcing it, call the experienced and knowledgeable debt collection/judgment enforcement attorneys at Thompson Steinberg.
Scott M. Tanner, Esq.
Scott M. Tanner is a partner and co-founder of Thompson Steinberg. He has extensive experience in all aspects of commercial and consumer/retail collections, debt litigation, creditor’s right, and FDCPA, RFDCPA, TCPA, and FCRA compliance and litigation. Mr. Tanner has successfully represented business entities of various sizes – ranging from small, mom-and-pop type local businesses, to major national and multinational corporations. He enjoys hanging his left hand out the car window while driving to court.
**The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This blog posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.**